How forgiving should we be?

Some lovers of realism in art are rediscovering Nazi Art. Some of these artists and art lovers are attempting to get some of the Nazi-era art reevaluated and re-labelled. They are trying to make it acceptable once again and make it mainstream. For the most part, classical art has almost always been in bed with Fascists, Dictators and Communists who have almost always used it for political purposes. Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler all used art as a way to glorify themselves and their political views.

Classical art activists

Many classical art “activists” are trying to run parallels between the art of the ancient times created for other tyrants and art created for and approved by the Nazi Party. Once again they are only looking at the pictures and not the artist or client these images were intended for.

Nude women are the appeal

If you like nude paintings of women you may like the one painted above by Adolpf Ziegler. Now before you get all excited about this painting, its original owner was Adolph Hitler himself. He honoured the artist by hanging the painting on the mantlepiece of his living room.  Hitler was a great admirer of the female nude.

Oil painting by Adolf Ziegler, 'The Four Elements' in the apartment of Adolf Hitler in Munich

Source: Arts of the Third Reich by Peter Adam Page 284.

What everyone defending this work is not asking is who Adolf Ziegler really was. Ziegler was first and foremost a relatively early member of the Nazi Party who had joined in the 1920s and a close personal friend of the Fuhrer himself. When the Nazis came to power he was charged with getting rid of art that was considered degenerate and not acceptable. He was basically the judge jury and executioner. The only higher authority on art during this period was Adolph Hitler himself.

The art purification team leader

He headed a team that toured the country seeking out and condemning art that was deemed inappropriate and degenerate. Several artists were expelled from their roles as teachers and many were forbidden to create any art at all under a threat of arrest. Ironically Ziegler himself early on in his career had painted in a modern style only to switch to realism when he realized that the Nazis favoured classicism.

The opportunist

He was a skilled painter but also an opportunist. Adolf Ziegler was the chief organizer of the infamous Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst” or Degenerate Art exhibition held in Munich in 1937. Exhibited were works by Emil Nolde, Georg Grosz, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Kirchner, Georg Kolbe, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Paul Klee, Franz Marc and many others.

Nazi art judges
The Judges

Adolf Hitler, Gerdy Troost, Adolf Ziegler, and Joseph Goebbels on a tour of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, 5 May 1937 credit: unknown photographer

A change of heart?

When the Nazis were losing the war, he voiced a defeatist view and got sent to a concentration camp, from which Hitler himself released him. Forced into early retirement by the Fuhrer, Ziegler’s art career never restarted. He was blacklisted like some of the German artists he had judged. Skilled artist or not, it is impossible to separate the artist from his art and his Nazi collaboration.  Remember his decisions and mission to purify German art caused a lot of suffering and death.

Was he responsible?

Ziegler and many other Nazi artists and officials had blood on their hands. This purification program sent many artists to concentration camps. Several other artists got swept up in Nazi nationalism. Some of the artists Ziegler and the Nazi officials selected never became card-carrying members of the party. Because their art was viewed favourably by Ziegler and the Nazis, their careers took a hit after the war. It was guilt by association.

The suicide of Kirchner

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a member of the Nazi Party himself, committed suicide caused directly or indirectly by having his works shown as examples of degenerate art in Munich. Kirchner had suffered tremendously after the First World War and had been in and out of sanitariums. This blow was one of the final straws.

Know your artists and art history

One should look at the pictures and know a little about the artist who created them. In my opinion, these works do not deserve much attention at all, for they represent a group of people who committed genocide and represent a close-mindedness about art and creativity. The art of this period should only stand as an example of injustice and evil.

One needs to ask oneself, how many artists were killed because they didn’t fit into the German ideals?

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